“Sustained by values that are based on an eco-centric view of the world, prioritizing the importance of ecosystems and all forms of life therein, regardless of their use to man.” (Excerpt from the Conservation Land Trust’s mission)
Esteros del Iberá —Rewilding & Inspiring
My mom stumbled upon Esteros del Ibera (the World’s second-largest freshwater reservoir) when browsing a newspaper’s traveling section, a few months ago.
I knew about the place through a couple of friends of mine, one of whom had worked with capybaras in the region. And I had been wanting to go for a long time but I never had the chance to take a few days off. But then, knowing how much I love Nature, mom thought it would be a good opportunity for a mother-daughter exploration trip. So, we started looking for hotels and activities to do together…
We settled on the lovely hotel Rincon del Socorro by chance. The reason why we picked it is that the pictures of the hotel looked beautiful. Their choice of activities and the importance that they seemed to dedicate to the nature surrounding the place, captured me. The whole idea for us was to disconnect from everything, and this place looked ideal.
The hotel is located in Esteros del Ibera in the province of Corrientes, northeast of my country, Argentina. This is one of the most diverse and rich ecosystems that we have in Argentina. It is a huge area of marshes, fed only by a heavy average rainfall that is characteristic of this region. This makes it the perfect home for a wide variety of animals and plants that color up the landscape. There is a small town of 700 inhabitants called Colonia Pellegrini where every camp and hotel in the area congregate. Although there are other entrances to the park, this one is the most important one.
The property itself includes 370,700 acres (i.e., roughly 150,000 hectares) nature reserve in the limits of the Iberá Natural Reserve, where wild animals thrive including the tapir, capybara, hundreds of bird species, collared peccary, and the marsh deer. It was only after we got to the place that we learned about the story behind it and about all the conservation projects that are implemented in the region.
In 2001, the Conservation Land Trust (CLT) acquired Rincón del Socorro with the objective of creating Argentina’s largest nature park, restoring locally endangered wildlife species, and promoting ecotourism as an economic tool for the local residents. In order to accomplish this, Kris and Doug Tompkins (the founders of the CLT) and their team restored and expanded the historic buildings of the ranch of the property, which today operates works as the eco-lodge.
Most of the people working here are locals. The staff includes biologists, nature guides with years of experience in the region. They know the area in and out. They were willing to answer gazillions of questions that I had and even treated us with a PowerPoint presentation explaining one by one all the conservation projects and the history of CLT. More importantly, they are proud, and genuinely happy to share Corrientes culture and respect for nature.
Our days were filled with activities such as visiting the Iberá lagoon, where you can have a close encounter with Yacare caimans while watching the most beautiful sunset. We rode horses around the marshes and caught a glimpse of magnificent Jabirús feeding. Jabirús are beautiful large storks found in the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina (Jabirú means ‘swollen neck’ in Guaraní, due to its featherless red and black beak). If you’re lucky enough, you can even see some marsh deer!
Walking around the property was like being on a safari. You could do it during the day, or at night, and in the company of one of the guides. A definite favorite of mine is that animals are free, in their territory, and living in complete harmony with the small number of visitors and staff. There is a mutual respect that is implicit and there are certain rules that visitor has to follow: no feeding the animals, no touching or getting closer than a certain approach distance. Above all, there is the understanding that being here is a privilege and that you should honor it by enjoying without disturbing.
An aspect of CLT that I particularly love, and that I mentioned earlier, is their goal: They are restoring and rewilding the Iberá (i.e, trying to recover the populations of the local fauna) and giving it back to the Argentinian government to turn it into a national park.
CLT’s biologists work on a variety of projects that include many local species. The common theme behind all the CLT projects is about increasing the population of local animals that are endangered and getting out of the park the animals that don’t belong there and have been introduced (by humans) over the years.
A species that I got to get a closer look at is the tapir –one of the biggest mammals of this ecosystem. Tapirs have been hunted for many years and their habitat destroyed. This led to a decreasing population, now below a critical number. One of the CLT projects focuses on rewilding the area with tapirs. They already released seven tapirs in the wild, including a recent newborn. In the picture, we can see the two that were still in the pre-release enclosure at the time of our visit. The objective for these 5-acres enclosures is to have a controlled area, where to keep them before they are reintroduced into the wild. The amount of food that they are given decreases with time. The only injuries that are treated are the ones caused by the collars they use to follow them. And the relationship with the keeper is kept to a minimum. Mom and I stayed there watching them for five minutes and then we left –not wanting to distract them more than we already did. The approach distance is always respected, and since visitors are only allowed to the part of the enclosure that has the gate, the disturbance for the animals is also kept to a minimum. During the first winters, the tapirs are given supplements to improve their chances of making it through that harsh time. Then the supplemental feeding fades away, so as to habituate them to their future coming wild life.
Some of the other CLT species rewilding projects that already completed, or are in the process to be, include jaguars, pampas deer, maned wolves, and giant anteaters (more info at www.proyectoibera.org).
What astounds me is to know that these people came years ago, and settled there with the only objective of giving it back to their people as a national park! I am sure this might have been hard to believe in the beginning, and I’m sure the locals might have struggled with changes and whether they should trust the Tompkins or not. But the good results and effects on the regions are becoming obvious now. The population of many of the project animals is increasing. Colonia Pellegrini doubles their people population every long weekend and during the holidays, with people coming from all over the world to visit this amazing place and everything that it has to offer. The eco-tourism and conservation work improves the economy of the area. It directly helps both people and nature, as the way of living improves with the benefits of ecotourism while reducing the impact on the environment with making sure that rules and laws over the protected areas are respected.
A lot more has to be done in terms of education, of awareness and conservation laws, but this is a very good start for an area that has struggled for many years.
To date, CLT has reached an agreement with the governments of Corrientes and Argentina to incorporate a total of 150,000 acres (including the 38000 acres of Socorro) into the future Iberá Park. This would include, as a whole, the areas from both the national and provincial park. This is good news, and we want to see them succeed.
I wanted to write about this experience because when things are done the right way, you have to share the success and the positive in order for others to imitate it; to get inspired by it.
CLT caught me completely by surprise: I am inspired by everything that the Tompkins have done not only for the Iberá area, but for other places as well, both in Chile and Argentina. This has to be talked about and shared. I invite you to look at their Conservation Land Trust website and discover their fascinating story, mission, and work.
If we reflect a little on our numbers and our impact on the environment, we know that we need to adjust our relationship towards Nature. I would like to emphasize how much Earthwise Aware’s guides and etiquettes help me get a closer look at how things are done in the places around me or the ones that I visit. It helps me look at how people-wildlife relationship is managed, what to pay attention to, what to photograph, and especially how to manage myself in a place like this.
Many of us are becoming more aware of our impact on the environment and wildlife. Whether we are a volunteer, a tourist enjoying nature, and wildlife, or a scientist taking samples, it is critical that we minimize our impact. Mistakes will happen still, but being able to spot them and avoiding repeating them is a vital part of the process.
August 15th 2017 | by Carolina Pantano
The photos in this article are the property of the author.
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